Esterly on Gibbons, art, and time

I am reading the most wonderful book: The Last Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by  David Esterly.  It’s a marvelous memoir of many things: being inspired by the Grinling Gibbons’ beautiful woodcarvings to take up the tools of woodcarving, setting aside his academic career for a career in art, and, ultimately, becoming gradually more intimate with the work of the 17th century master carver as Esterly works to help restore the pieces damaged in a fire at Hampton Court Palace. 

Here is the NPR story with Esterly in it

Here is a YouTube link on the Hampton Court carvings of Grinling Gibbons that Esterly replaced for the crown. 

Esterly also has a penchant for the English romantic poets, so that he is fully capable of blending those with his meditations on time and role of craft/art/making in one’s life in utterly sumptuous prose. Is it any wonder than my dreadfully late book chapter goes neglected while I spend my hours reading away? 

JAPA’s Problems and The Invisible Art of the Edit

We’re having a bit of a tussle in planning with our flagship journal. The current editor is my former advisor. I love the guy, and that’s all there is to it. He’s produced some very fine special issues of the journal, for all the criticism.

It comes up rather routinely in journals for all the durm and strang going on about JAPA at the moment; somebody who is a marvelous scholar in his or her own right takes over the editorship of a journal and winds up not necessarily suited to the role in various ways. That’s because editing isn’t a simple matter of being the best scholar in the room, or having good taste. It’s also a matter of organization and directness.

All that said, disorganized editors can hurt younger scholars. No, your promotion case shouldn’t come down to the one paper you are trying to place in one journal. But if that journal is important, there are consequences if the journal goes into disarray at the wrong time for you, as has happened for me here at JAPA. My senior colleagues with their close association with JAPA have convinced our Dean that JAPA is the premier journal in planning, at least for American scholars. It probably is. But now that USC is big into the prestige game, my promotion to full hinges on getting things into JAPA. Now, I haven’t even managed to get my stuff reviewed at JAPA after years waiting. I may have already damaged my chances at promotion by allowing my stuff to languish at JAPA. I know better than to do this, and yet I did it anyway simply because JAPA is so important to promotion here. And let’s face it: even when you are old and have been in the harness for awhile, you still hope your advisor approves of your work. At least I do. A weakness I should have outgrown, perhaps, but one of many I possess anyway.

I just finished Mr. Shawn’s New Yorker: The Invisible Art of the Edit by Ved Mehta, a memoir of Mehta’s time working as a staff writer under William Shawn. I suspect the book is most valued for the New Yorker gossip, but for me, the most interesting parts of the book came down just how extraordinary Mr. Shawn was as an editor: Uniquely supportive, attentive to detail, with a visionary eye for what types of long pieces would capture an audience and a republican interest in creating valuable content. He had a staff full of people to make it work; most scholarly editors do not.

In reading through the book, it occurred to me that JAPA’s previous editors, David Sawicki and Amy Helling from Georgia Tech, really were exemplary even if I could argue with David, in particular, about his attitudes towards certain types of qualitative work. I was a probationary faculty at the time, and David was infuriatingly direct, but quite nurturing in his own rough way. He said “This is not good, here’s why, send me something else” and “This doesn’t work for JAPA; it’s too technical/narrow/specialized for the audience” to me more times than I care to relive. Why? Well, because the material wasn’t good, and I was missing the audience, that’s why. Journals are where scholars keep learning after they finish their dissertation. Tom Daniels once referred to journals, rather dismissively, as “a training ground for junior faculty.” The phrase stuck with me at first because of the dismissiveness and now because of its insight. Journals are training grounds. David Sawicki, for all the “no” that I got from that guy, was teaching me how to write for the journal by showing me where I was missing in my attempts.

This nurturing represents an incredible generosity to the scholars that you edit.

Amy Helling, the managing editor, was even more wonderful. When I finally did get something past David and into the pipeline, Helling managed the process brilliantly, fact-checking and challenging points that didn’t make sense, catching typos and even–do you know how rare this is?–catching a typo in the regression tables. She kept things transparent and professional–a breath of fresh air in the academy where things are often neither.

I hope the kerfuffle around JAPA dies down soon and everybody gets their papers published somewhere.

Todd Pettigrew mansplains how women in the academy should choose their choice

Attention conservation notice: Don’t lecture women on their choices based on cheap shots and self-aggrandizing stories about your own experiences.

Two of my brilliant students, Eli Glazer and Alejandro Sanchez-Lopez, tweeted this post to my attention. It’s by Todd Pettigrew, in Macleans Higher Ed. Why do people write these things? Since Eli and Alejandro are two of my favorites, I’ll dissect it, even though it’s so flimsy it does not deserve the attention. There, Dr. Pettigrew, are some clicks for you. Enjoy.

First of all, the issue: women on the tenure track balancing career and family.

I am often hard on my colleagues who are good demanding things for themselves because of caregiving concerns, but who never ever think that their demands should be made generally of the institution, for all people working there, from the janitors to the provost. If I hear one more comment on “Can female professors/other privileged occupations have it all?” I am going to barf/start smacking people upside the head. For one thing, it suggests that work and children are “all” and that women who don’t have both are lacking in one or the other, and why don’t we all just back up and let women and their partners and their families decide what “all” is for them and try to help them attain their goals? That strikes me as cool.

And second, nobody is asking the women cleaning toilets if they can have it all. I’m happy to worry about the problems of women on the tenure track, but only so far that I worry about the problem of uncompensated caregiving work and its distribution between genders in general. People caring for terminally ill spouses and aging parents have caregiving work, too, and it takes time and energy and money, too, and they tend to get fewer workplace accommodations than parents of either gender do.

So I’m not automatically inclined to take up the cause of extending caregiving time and childcare benefits to parents on the tenure track, but I am inclined to do so for people in general. Kids are important to us all, just like caring for the sick or aged matters to us all. Period. People who need care (i.e., all of us, at some point) are part of society. They are ours–not just some women’s problem to deal with. Ours.

But my students, who have to deal with me picking on their lapses in reasoning all semester, are waiting to see a response to Pettigrew, and I am happy to oblige. Please never write stuff like this piece. If you do get a public forum for your ideas, please show humility, reason, and care. That’s your job as somebody who is trying to influence policy.

The first set of problems: 1) Pettigrew appears to have no idea what it’s like being a woman in male-dominated field in the academy; 2) he appears no have idea what things are like in science departments; 3) he probably has no clue what things are like at major research universities because he never appears to have been at one, except as a grad student. His willingness to speak to ‘academic women’ as a ‘progressive man’ begins from a position of basic ignorance about many things salient to the discussion. That is your first sign as a writer and a reasoner: if you must write about a topic that is way outside of your experience, go with humility first. Tread carefully. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about intellectual humility and the spirit of exploration. And not sounding like a tool.

Let’s break down the argument, point by point.

Lousy/Borderline unethical argumentation alert #1: Distorting the original argument for your own ends.

A recent article in University Affairs, for instance, reports on a study by Shelley Adamo who argues that women are underrepresented as biologists because they tend to be seeking jobs when they “are in their late 20s and early 30s and more likely to have a partner and young children. ‘That sort of handicaps them,’” according to Dr. Adamo.

First, as a married man I resent the claim that a husband or other life partner inevitably “handicaps” the career of a female academic. If your special someone doesn’t think your career is important, then find someone who does. And what about the life partners who support their academic spouses by paying the bills while their partner is burning the midnight oil?

How did “…that sort of handicaps them” turn into a claim that it “inevitably handicaps” anything?

That distorted framing–which is a form of audience manipulation–starts from the headline onward. “Academic women should stop blaming their children” is designed, pure and simple, as click-bait. The women in the original study are talking about the issues that arise for them in their roles working between career and children. If they blame anything, it’s the academy’s inflexibility, childcare provision scarcity, and a broad misunderstanding/denigration of the time and energy that caregiving takes. Nobody’s blaming the innocent widdle kiddies, although it helps Dr. Pettigrew construct a moral highground–for the children I speak!–atop a straw man–or straw child in this case.

Lousy argumentation alert #2–Personalizing something not about you. “I resent the idea…”

We should all be worried that he resents the idea…. Of course, he is distorting the ideas specifically so that he can resent something, but we should all be concerned about his feelings about something that was never said or even seriously implied rather than waste our time worrying about the issues/arguments/ideas concerning caregiving work.

Lousy argumentation alert #3–The Facile Contradiction

Next up: the assertion about the supportive partners. Sure, we all know supportive partners exist; I’m even fortunate enough to have one. Isn’t that clever of me?

But that is cheap argumentation 101: find a contradiction to a claim and then act like that contradiction proves something. But without evidence, we can’t tell if the contradiction reflects the prevailing trend (i.e. most people have supportive spouses) or whether this is a man-bites-dog contradiction (it happens, but it is not particularly illustrative of social life).

The contradiction may prove nothing for all we really know, but it does superficially reassure us that if a guy takes out the trash or holds down a job, women don’t need childcare or extra help attaining career success. See what I did there? Woo! I, too, can distort arguments and imply they are wrong, deeply wrong by contradicting something that was never claimed in the first place.

Of course partners can play a supportive role; relationships are mix of give and take. But even supportive spouses can add complications to the highly specialized, and often narrow, chances for academic careers and fieldwork. When you have more people to accommodate in your career move, fieldwork, and schedule, the accommodations become more constraining. It’s hard to drop your family and go do fieldwork in Indonesia for 6 months; it’s probably even harder to take them with you. Certainly people do it, and certainly it affects parents and scholars of both genders. That’s why we should grapple with the concerns that caregivers have in general, not just lecture women (or anybody) about choices.

Oh, and just get yourself a partner that supports what you do, why doncha? It’s all so easy. Make your whole life fit the academic world, lest ye or anybody start questioning academia or the way academic institutions treat people. If some partner of yours doesn’t immediately fall in line with your career or has needs of their own, ditch ’em. Trade up.

Lousy argumentation alert #4: Remove the nuance from a set of ideas, then distort those ideas, for your own rhetorical convenience. This one is really a work of art.

As for children, there are, to some extent, biological realities that would put extra strain on any woman trying to get to the forefront of her field. Still, feminists have been hammering the point home for over a generation now: women control their own bodies and should be able to choose whether or not to have children. But if that’s the case, then women can’t blame children for lack of academic success. If it’s a choice, then women have the choice not to have children if they don’t like the implications for their careers.

Biological realities that would put extra strain? To some extent? I don’t know what he meant to convey by that, so let’s skip it. Then he goes on to hoisting feminists on their own petard of choice! Devastating!

Only, again–he’s taken a grossly unfair read of what many feminists have argued. Feminists in reality are a diverse bunch and hold a wide range of positions on the body and birth control, but since that doesn’t serve his argument, he just flattens out what those “feminists” say for his rhetorical convenience.

And talk abut distorting an argument for self-serving reasons. I’m pretty sure what those hammering (oh, rhymes with yammering) feminists did not mean that women need to be able to control their reproduction so that it suits institutions. Yes, by gum, those institutions are so darned swell, we should expect women to make their choices to fit those institutions–not expect those institutions to evolve in pro-social, pro-family ways that would help parents of both genders manage their work and family roles. THAT’S JUST CRAZY. Choose, women, choose. CHOOSE YOUR CHOICE, women; you may have only one role! Men, carry on as you do, not having to make these choices because there are no career implications for you. (Only there probably are if you aren’t a crap caregiver, no matter what your gender.) Aren’t men swell for not whining or blaming their children in this situation?

This, from “a progressive man”? Does his dictionary have a different meaning for the word “progressive” than mine? Is there an obscure definition where progressive means assuming that maintaining existing institutional practices and cultures matter more than social inclusion?

Lousy Argumentation alert #5: The just-so story about oneself used as evidence, with straight-up misogyny mixed in

But what gets me is the way Fullick slips children into the mix of things that just happen to unsuspecting candidates: “Personal events can intervene, such as the birth of a child.” By the time a woman reaches graduate school, I expect that she understands the various mechanisms around pregnancy. Forgive me, then, but the birth of a child does not intervene. If you choose to have a baby while a graduate student, that’s your choice.

First, the misogyny. Note how he implies single responsibility for pregnancy to women: “by the time a woman reaches graduate school, I expect that she understands the various mechanisms…” Women, this is all on you. Having a child is not a family thing, a decision made in family and social contexts. It’s you and you alone. Those of us who advocate for women’s rights to choose also understand that partners and families have a stake in those choices, btw. What entitlements that stake grants is contested, fine, but women are not baby factories with on and off switches just because they have choices.

He does have a point about the passive language in the original text, but he once again overblows the passivity and amplifies for his own self-interested ends to score some cheap points rather than actually making an argument.

Yes, graduate students of both genders do know where babies come from, but what does that prove, again? Just because you know where babies come from, and you can use birth control to set the timing does not mean you are free to dictate the exact, proper, conditions for when childbearing come together in your life. Waiting for a “good time to have children” strikes me as a luxury–some people have it, other people do not. I suspect parents try to do the best they can. I worked a demanding job before graduate school that precluded kids: if I had said “no kids until tenure” we would have started trying when I was 39. Risks for maternal and child health go up by a lot by that age; check the numbers. So then….that’s my choice had I wanted children in Pettigrew’s framing? All so no university ever has to be bothered with coming up with ideas and practices that help out workers who have children?

So that we can understand how the pros do the baby factory on/baby factory off, Dr. Pettigrew does give us an instructional, just-so story about his own prudence:

When I was a graduate student, my partner and I discussed it seriously and decided against it. No child intervened. And we didn’t get lucky. We decided.

Never mistake your preferences or your experiences for evidence in argumentation. Dr. Pettigrew does both here.

How is HIS personal experience illustrative of anything other than a willingness to argue from an N of 1? Good job making the choice that worked for you. We’re all so glad for you. I guess this means you’re absolved from accommodating people who make different choices than you? How does that work in a cosmopolitan community amongst ‘progressives’?

Finally, it’s clear from Dr. Pettigrew’s tone and his cv that he has no idea what the work expectations are for women in science or at major research universities. Resources for parents and kids are likely to vary substantially by university context, along with work expectations.

Pettigrew is an associate professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia. He has no idea what a young parent starting out in biology or any other science at a place like USC or Columbia is up against. I’m sure he had high teaching expectations placed on him–but I have no way of judging whether that’s easier or harder than what we had to go through to get tenure at USC.

And neither does he. He’s just willing to presume he does my know my life, and the lives of women in the academy more generally. That’s the art of the mansplain.

Transit, we love you, but you bring us down: service problems from a patron’s perspective

Peter Gordon and I were chatting at party yesterday about my difficulties writing an introductory chapter about public transit. Why the trouble? The topic has become so politicized that no matter what you say, somebody assumes something about your ideology before you are able to finish your thought. My goal in an introductory chapter, I think, is to help newcomers to the field get enough background to evaluate the debates on their own, not feed them my conclusions. It’s proved a tough chapter to structure.

So I was surfing around the webs to see what other people think the big debates are in public transit, and I happened upon this wonderful, refreshingly honest piece from a commuter over at the Size. As a fellow transit commuter, the writer over at the Size pretty much nailed the problems from a commuter’s vantage point–and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the normal advocacy about how transit saves the universe and is clean, convenient, and quick. In my experience, transit is seldom any of those things—but it is still often better than driving even from the standpoint of the individual decision-maker and her utility, without worrying about fighting climate change or obesity or any other social ill we’d like transit to fix for us (while we mostly ignore and underfund it).

Taken together, the sum total of her problems with transit make a go-to guide for what, if we could clean up our act as transit providers, would take transit from being useful but annoying to being useful and often pleasant. I’ll go point by point.

10. The bus didn’t see you and tried to (or did) just drive right past you. You’re wearing a long bright red coat, but somehow you’ve turned invisible momentarily. These things happen.

Passbys. RRRRrrr. Sometimes they are your fault–when you are embarking on a non routine trip, and you accidentally stand in the wrong spot (which wouldn’t happen if transit information were better, but even then, I routinely screw up), or sometimes they are the driver’s fault–i.e., she’s driving an express bus that doesn’t stop at that stop, but she doesn’t have her express number up, or she’s running cold and shortchanges a single patron waiting so that she can skip a stop and get back on time. Those things do happen; if drivers didn’t do stuff like that every so often, they’d get pretty far off schedule, and then everybody on the bus and everybody coming up is ill-served rather than just you.

In my ideal world, when a driver has to skip a stop to deal with the schedule, they should be able to blast that info so that the tripper behind him or her can give a dollar coupon or some such from the transit store or some sponsor to give to the standees at the stop. It’s small comfort, but it is an acknowledgement that the bus operator didn’t meet a service expectation. Also in my ideal world, that message from the operator would prompt a tweet or a text to passengers who subscribe to that line when the next bus is coming so that you can make an informed decision about whether to wait or whether to give up and cab it.

9. There is a delay due to slippery rail, mechanical failure, residual mechanical failure, disabled train, disabled bus, signal problem, medical emergency, weather related problem, residual delay, switch problem, heavy ridership, police investigation, traffic, weather related slip, heavy ridership, etc. My favorite of these delay reasons is “late train”. How can you describe the reason as the problem? Why is the train late? The train is late due to a late train. Okay, that clears things up.

Transit companies work pretty hard to stay on time, but failures do happen. Telling people that the train is late because it’s late isn’t helpful, and it feels like an insult to your intelligence to have this said in explanation. Transit workers should be better at saying “I’m sorry–I have no idea why it’s late, but I will check to see if I can find out when it’s coming.” Some transit providers tweet the information, which is marginally helpful. But in cases of very late service, transit companies should try to make it right by sending bus shuttles and offering next-month pass discount codes to people waiting past a certain threshold. I know it would decrease revenue, but when you are recovering as little from the farebox as transit providers generally do, losing a bit of revenue in favor of passenger goodwill might be worth the trade.

8. Someone has BO, too much perfume, permanent cigarette scent, and any other funk that you must now deal with.

Nothing to be done about that. Hell is other people.

7. You can’t get in the train. You’ve been waiting what feels like forever and need to get to your destination soon (or just would really like to). Oh, good. Here’s the next train. It opens. It’s full.

From a provider’s perspective, crush loads are sort of awesome. All that revenue, all those passengers, being served by one driver at a time. Super! But from a passenger’s perspective, this is nasty. Not much to do in the short term but try to run higher frequencies or larger trains, but you probably can’t do either because you’ve maxed out on platform space already (train size), or your roster isn’t big enough to support more peak hour operators, or you can’t add from your existing roster because you can’t split drivers’ shifts according to union rules, or paying split shifts is prohibitively expensive.

Another possibility is adding a private contractor to try to redirect some passengers to professional vanpool or bus services who will take agency passes during the peak. That’s expensive, too, and your unions don’t appreciate it.

6. People won’t wait for you to leave to train before they try to get on. They somehow are always surprised to see you there trying to exit. It’s not the second coming of Jesus, folks. You should expect every time a train comes that at least one person is going to be walking through the opening and off the train.

OMG–my biggest pet peeve, right along with the people at the airport in Zones 4-100 who feel the need to clutter up the space for boarding and make it hard for the rest of us in zones 1-3 to get on the airplane. Seriously people, the plane/train/bus leaves when it leaves, we’re all leaving at the same time. Stop it, would you?

I’m not sure there is a solution to this one, except in my ideal world the people who do that are poked with a cattle prod and made to wait until EVERY SINGLE PERSON HAS ALIGHTED HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES, MR IMPATIENTPANTS?

Any design solutions folks have noticed at station areas?Read More »

CEOs that use their companies as platforms for their political celebrity

As a person who is both a maker, taker, consumer, and investor, I am confused by the CEO as political celebrity. Me, I would like all the CEOs of companies that I invest in to, simply, stay quiet about their politics, unlike Wholefood CEO John Mackey. Do not give people a reason to boycott the products or services that my investments are producing, thank you very much. You want to run for office? Fine. You are entitled in this great nation of ours to hold public office.


Aristotle may have said that man is a political animal, and he’s right, and there are markets for political ideas, too, don’t get me wrong. But given a choice between simply buying a) whole-bean coffee versus b) buying whole bean coffee despite/because of the political stance of the company’s reps, I strongly suspect that a) appeals to the bigger consumer base of both conservatives and liberals. Using your company as platform from which to launch your political celebrity strikes me as bumping up against the borders of business ethics. While you are on salary from a company, aren’t you meant to put the company’s interests before your own desire to sell books?

There are some businesses for whom the nature of the product is wrapped up in symbolism–flags, peace t-shirts, etc. And some are difficult to boycott: JB Hunt had well-known political ideas, but it is hard to boycott logistics companies. But not coffee. Or loaves of bread. Or salmon filets. In those cases, errrbody’s money is green. And you can offend liberal or conservative buys with political celebrity. Right?

Is there anybody writing about this idea of celebrity CEO’s? I would like to know about it, if so.

More to life that being happy? Victor Frankl, Willpower, and the ancients

Emily Esfahani Smith over at the Atlantic has a nice essay up reflecting on the ideas of Viktor Frankl with a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, along with recent research on happiness. The conundrum: meaning appears to lower happiness. Meaning requires commitment and self-sacrifice, and those tend involve less happiness doing your own thing. Parents worry; then when they become grandparents, they worry some more (it’s great fun being grandparent, so I’m told, but I also know they fret. And how can you not with car accidents and spree shootings and human predators and cancer in the world?)

The practical philosophers of Athens, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, would not have needed social psychology experiments to understand the tradeoff: they spent a good deal of time contesting the happy life, the pleasurable life, and the moral life, and most concluded that the latter was more important to the first than the second, by far. Even Epicurius, who would remind us of the good associated with pleasure, could not bring himself to dismiss the importance that moral choices bring to our social lives, seeing little distinction ultimately between our happiness and the fate of family, friends, society.

Equality is not over-rated, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Day in Los Angeles involves a parade down Martin Luther King Boulevard in Leimert Park and Crenshaw, very close where I am lucky enough to live. I was reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King this morning, and I am wondering what he would think regarding our current dialogue surrounding equality, which treats the concept rather like a dirty word. Like many concepts in justice, equality is horribly misunderstood. You read conservative and libertarian commenters lament that liberals want everything to be equal–an equality of outcomes–that makes no sense whatsoever because people are born with different endowments (meaning skills, not inherited wealth) and different characters, so why should we be equal? I find this line of thinking to be generally specious: few people even on the left believe that self-made millionaires and scroungers should enjoy the same economic or social outcomes past the provision of basic goods like health, education, food, housing. (And even Hayek admitted to basic goods in the Road to Serfdom.) Instead, liberals tend to focus on equality of opportunity and those basic goods–the former being the most difficult to conceptualize and advocate for. No, we do not start out life with the same endowments–the same gifts from heaven, the same privileges in society, or the same family. Measures to promote equality of opportunity tend to create particular kind of inequality in pursuit of opportunities from those they perceive as starting from a position of disadvantage.

One of the most poignant memes going around the interwebs has been this one:

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This meme conveys the idea nicely: there is an equality of outcome here; it’s not about millionaires and scroungers, but just a little visual story about some kids who want to enjoy something together. What we’re missing here is the process behind it: Do the boys work together to find the resources? Or do the littlest boy’s parent’s use the state to force the other boys to help the littlest get a bigger box? We can’t really resolve the idealogical differences based on a meme, as usual.

Nonetheless, my point is that equality in some respect is so central to justice that you can’t escape equality even in a meme trying to draw the distinction between equality and justice. Equality is a central theme in justice even now, when it is heavily criticized from both the left and the right.

Dr. King helped illustrate how absolutely central equality is to justice: there is no justice when a man of one race has due process and another subject to summary justice with mob rule.

Bits of fluff in the ear and everything else you should know about college teaching from Pooh

I chanced upon this lovely piece of writing this morning from Book Riot by their contributor, dr b.: Everything I Needed to Know About Teaching, I Learned From Winne-the-Pooh. It is a lovely essay, with advice from a precocious instructor. She’s only two years in! It took me years and years to even even remotely begin to show this level of insight about teaching.

My favorites:

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

I feel it’s my job to pick out the very best, most interesting, and most useful things to do in a given topic during a given semester. But some students just have things they would rather do than my class. It happens.

There is also lovely writing advice:

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.

Like many students, I have ruined a lot of really good ideas by trying to write them down.

My persistent problem with Britishisms

So you are a bad, affected American if you use British expressions–that much has been made clear to me by all the tastemakers. And I don’t have a problem with, for the most part, remembering to put the “the” in front of hospital or saying “redhead” instead of “ginger.”. I am fond of articles, and I am most definitely fond of the definite articles.

The problem for me is that so many Britishisms are good words. “Whinge” is not objectively better than “whine” but “spot on” is better than “accurate”, at least in terms of rhythm and vividness.

For example, I’ve just been informed that “kerfuffle” is a Britishism. It is not. I distinctly remember learning it, and loving it, for the GRE roughly 900 years ago. Kerfuffle is, simply, a marvelous world. Nobody gets to own it. It must be free to work its linguistic wonders.

Which brings me to my question: when is something a British-ism versus a simple English word?

I strongly suspect that many of these people dubbing things “Britishisms” are just appropriating words they like because they want to stop Americans from using perfectly good words because Americans annoy them because we routinely ruin tea, and they haven’t got their own fancy drone technology to use on us yet. Try to keep me from kerfuffle, indeed.

Either way, I plan to keep using “turns up” and other things likely British so long as they are apt. Neener neener.

Ben Yagoda has a very amusing blog dedicated to such things. He even does some science-y stuff to look at them.